Misha paced back and forth in the kitchen as the phone on the other end rang. His mother was in the living room with half a bottle of vodka in her hand. She was half unconscious so Misha didn’t worry about what she might hear. At this point, he probably wouldn’t have worried if she were standing over him stone-cold sober and shaking her finger at him.

The phone kept ringing on the other end. “Come on, come on,” Misha said under his breath.

Finally, he heard the click and the strained sound of his contact’s voice. “Hello.”

“It’s me,” Misha said, hoping that would be enough. When the man didn’t respond, he said, “Misha.”

The man’s voice was somber, resigned. “I know.”

“Is there any chance of still getting out?” Misha asked.

“With our previous arrangement?” Misha waited for the man to tell him what he already knew he didn’t want to hear. “Not a chance.”

Misha closed his eyes, silently nodded to himself. He wasn’t surprised, but he felt disappointed, something he wasn’t expecting. Sometimes knowing the truth and hearing the truth were worlds apart. One was a ghost that could be kept in a cage and ignored. The other painted the world over to create a reality that couldn’t be ignored.

He wasn’t going to Europe.

“What are my options?”

The man on the other end sighed. “There’s always Tbilisi. Or Mongolia. Maybe even Finland, although I wouldn’t count on that if you don’t already have a visa.”

“That’s the best you can do?”

“Not without starting over.”

“Well, I don’t need you if I want to go to Georgia. I could practically hitchhike there if I wanted to.”

“I know, Misha. And you should consider it.”

“It’s not good enough. I need to get to Europe.”

“It’s a start. And it’s better than staying here. It will soon be dangerous to be a young man in Russia.”

There wasn’t anything else to say. His one chance to get to Europe was gone, unless he wanted to start over. He didn’t have the money. He didn’t have the time.

He was broke and had 24 hours.

Misha heard a loud bang in the background and then the man said, “You shouldn’t have called.”

“Why not?”

“You’ve caught the attention of the police.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they’re here.”

Misha heard the sound of chairs and tables being dragged across the floor, muffled voices, thumps, grunts and then angry, unintelligible voices.

Then the line went dead.

Misha held the receiver in his hand, stared at the phone hanging on the wall for a few moments and then bashed the receiver against the cradle as hard as he could. He bashed it again and again until he finally ripped the cradle off the wall. He threw down the receiver.

“God damn Nazi Germany. We lost 25 million fighting those bastards just so we could turn into them.” He kicked the phone and watched it slide across the floor and crash into the wall.

He plopped down in a chair and leaned his elbows on the kitchen table. He ran his hands through his hair and stared at the table top. Then, he put his hand on the table, the way he would hold it out so Hanah could find it and latch onto it. But the chair across from him was empty now.

And it would be for a long time. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Misha kicked the table leg. He had no way of knowing, not really. He could still see that bastard police Captain smiling as he basked in the small victory of coercing Misha into the army. Petty power trip, that’s all it was. But it was people like that Captain whose intoxication with even the slightest power fueled the oppression of Misha’s Russia.

No, not his. Not like this. This wasn’t his Russia. Not yet. But Misha knew he wouldn’t be part of that change. Not now. Because he had no choice.

Everything he had hoped to do, the podcasts, the vlogs, the shouting from his soapbox in his corner of the Internet. He could do that almost anywhere, really. Tbilisi may not have been Europe, but it might be good enough. Maybe he could find a way to Europe from there. It was a first step.

It got him out of Russia.

Misha put his hand back on the table and stared at it. On some distant day, he could see himself sitting at a table in a small kitchen in Tbilisi. The world wouldn’t be right because Hanah wouldn’t be sitting across from him, groping to find his hand and telling him all the passion that lay deep within her heart.

But he would be free.

©2022 Michael J Lawrence

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